Jiang Weiping reunited with his family in Canada

There is an article in today’s Globe and Mail titled “After six years, diplomatic lifeline allows Chinese dissident to reunite with family“. Jiang Weiping, a Chinese journalist who had been put in prison for exposing political corruption.

Since he was convicted on subversion charges in 2001, Mr. Jiang’s story was heard around the world. The courageous Chinese journalist won the prestigious international Press Freedom Award, and an inaugural award from PEN Canada, which has long pressed for his release.

Mr. Jiang was convicted after exposing corruption at the local and provincial levels in China’s industrial northeast. One of his stories revealed that the vice-mayor of Shenyang had gambled away $3-million in public funds. Another reported that the mayor of Daqing had used state money to buy apartments for his 29 mistresses.

Mr. Jiang, who has a serious stomach ailment, was released from prison in January, 2006.

The Chinese had reduced his eight-year sentence under pressure from international organizations, including PEN, an association that defends the freedom of expression of writers around the world. But he could not be involved in political activity in China, nor was he granted the travel documents that would have allowed him to leave the country to join his family in Canada.

I suspect that the link to the full text of this article will disappear in the next day or so.   You can access the full text through Canadian Newsstand, a database that is available for free through most (all?) public libraries in BC.

Posted in civil liberties Tagged: china, corruption, freedom of speech, government censorship, international, journalism, journalist, pen

Karen Connelly & Deborah Campbell

When people find out that I’m a librarian they often respond “Oh, I love books”, mostly because I think they don’t know what else to say.A   The “I love books” people drive me nuts, and I usually respond with a snarky”I don’t like books at all” or “I don’t read fiction.”A   That usually shuts them up quickly.A   But I do love books, and I love writers.A   I think our society desperately needs writers and artists.

Last night after drinking a lemony cold and flu drink for dinner I dragged my sorry self to the Robson Square Reading Series event (that BCLA cosponsored) with Karen Connelly and Deborah Campbell.A   They were amazing.

Before her reading Deborah Campbell talked about how Freedom to Read week is also freedom to write week.A   She said that it’s not just about despotic governments in other countries that censor, but that half of the newspapers in Canada are owned by one family, that is only interested in publishing specific types of stories about the Middle East.A   Deborah Campbell read from This Heated Place, Iran’s Quiet Revolution (that was published in the Walrus magazine) and something else that I don’t remember.A   She explained that the political situation in the Middle East was very nuanced and complex and that she sought to describe “how the human narrative fits into the geopolitical context”.A   She has a feature article coming out in Harper’s magazine in April.

Karen Conolley read from The Lizard Cage, a fictional book that is based on Burma in the late 80s.A   One of the passages that she read was about Teza, a political prisoner who was in year 7 of a 20 year solitary prison sentence.A   Contraband items, tucked away in his food parcel, are smuggled into his cell.A   These contraband items are pen and paper so that he can also write a congratulatory letter to the leader of the opposition party Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from house arrest.A   Conolley writes:

Who can tell what a single word, the right one, might do?A   He considers an entire letter.A   How far will it travel, whom will it find, what will it carry or leave behind in its wake?A   Whatever he writes will mean You have not silenced me.A   Despite all your power, you are not all-powerful.A   Men have often reduced his voice to gasps and weeping.A   They have crushed the power to speak from his body, from many bodies.A   But words written down outlive the vulnerability of the flesh. A   (The Lizard Cage, p. 137-8)

Teza ends up ripping the letter up and eating the pieces.A   He then tries to get rid of the pen by throwing it through an air vent, as he can hear the footsteps of the prison guards coming down the hall to his cell.A   I’m really looking forward to reading this book.

Both Deborah Campbell and Karen Connelly made me think about many of the freedoms that I take for granted.A   Happy Freedom to Read Week.

C is for censorship and circumvention

The recent military crackdown in Burma got me thinking about access to information around the world. The media also commented on the role that the internet played in getting uncensored information out about the monk’s protests against the military dictatorship as well as how the internet was essentially shut off to stop the flow of information.

Everyone’s Guide to By-passing Internet Censorship (31 page PDF), is a practical document that can be understood by people who aren’t so techie. It outlines various circumvention techniques and outlines various options including web-based circumvention systems, tunneling software, and anonymous communication systems. There is information for both the potential circumvention user and provider.

This guide was put put out by Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory at U of T’s Munk Centre for International Studies. They state that more than 25 countries censor the Internet, including Burma, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and the United States.

Although some states enact Internet filtering legislation, most do so with little or no transparency and public accountability. Most states do not reveal what information is being blocked, and rarely are there review or grievance mechanisms for affected citizens or content publishers. Compounding the problem is the increasing use of commercial filtering software, which is prone to over-blocking due to faulty categorization. Commercial filters block access to categorized lists of websites that are kept secret for proprietary reasons, even for customers. As a consequence, unaccountable private companies determine censorship rules in political environments where there is little public accountability or oversight. (p. 5)

Reporters Without Boarders also includes information on filters and circumvention technologies in their Handbook for Cyber-Dissidents and Bloggers.

(thanks Susie for including this in your Bits and Bytes)